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Drive me out to Nationals Ball Park

Planning a trip from the suburbs to something as simple as a baseball game in D.C. can be a trying task.

You drive. You sit in traffic, then circle and circle ... and circle some more ... to find parking. Next, you jump on the Metro and learn what if feels like to be a sardine squished inside a tin can in a sea of red T-shirts.

Tired of the wearisome routine, three local sports fanatics decided to take out the middle man, launching the Ballpark Bus in April as a way to give fans a reprieve from the stress.

"We live out in the suburbs and most of the sporting events take place in D.C." said Jason Watlington, partner and director of operations for the Ballpark Bus. "Most of the time, if you take the Metro, it takes almost as long to get to the game and get back as it does to spend time at the game."

The concept behind the bus is simple. Customers book tickets online, meet at several restaurants which the Ballpark Bus has partnered with, sit back and enjoy the ride to and from the game.

Tickets are $15 if booked three days in advance and $18 after that. The bus caters to group outings as well.

“We’re transforming the mundane and often frustrating task of getting to Nationals Park into a fun and relaxing experience you can enjoy with your friends, co-workers, and family,” says Brian Bowman, partner, director of marketing.

A software engineer and a graphics designer by day – and both die-hard Virginia Tech fans – Watlington and Bowman simply wanted an easier way to enjoy their love of sports.

A third partner in the company is silent.

"At this point, it's just a hobby for us, but we're enjoying trying to build a business," Watlington said.

Finding a bus that would cater to groups on a whim – the bus doesn't always run if enough people haven't signed up – was a daunting task.

The men vetted nearly 150 bus companies before finally settling.

Reservations for a seat on the bus need to be made at least two to three days in advance, Watlington said, but customers are not charged if the bus doesn't run. There needs to be at least 25 customers with tickets for the bus to make a trip to the game.

Ballpark Bus partnered with restaurants in Loudoun and Fairfax counties as a staging area for the trips. Additional restaurants are expected to sign on soon.

"We needed a place where we could potentially park 40 to 50 cars and not have people standing around outside waiting for the bus to arrive," he said.

The bus departs from Velocity Five, 5825 Trinity Parkway in Centreville; Glory Days Grill, 2567 John Milton Drive in Reston; Clyde's, 42920 Broadlands Blvd. in Ashburn; the Greene Turtle, 900 N. Glebe Road in Ballston; and the Greene Turtle, 21035 Dulles Town Circle in Sterling

For the restaurant managers, the partnership was a win-win.

"The partnership gave people more and more of an opportunity to see Clyde's and get the Clyde's experience," said general manager Paul Fox. "With 82 [National's] home games and a minor team working their way out here eventually, we wanted to make sure fans knew that we were here."

Fox said fans arrive with their tickets in hand, come into his restaurant for a drink or some food and then board the bus.

"It was a really easy choice when they came to me," he said.

As word spreads of the the Ballpark Bus, Watlington's hope is they can expand to more than just trips to sports games, although the upcoming Redskins' season will certainly be on the schedule.

The company has already scheduled trips to the Aug. 12 Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw concert at FedEx Field and the Sept. 15 Bruce Springsteen concert at National's Park.

There's also dates for a James Madison University football game against West Virginia University on Sept. 15 and a Virginia Tech game on Sept. 29.

For more information on the Ballpark Bus, visit ballparkbus.com.
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